Relevant Online was founded in 2016 by Harm Linssen and Wout Smelt. How did it all start? How did we become frontrunners in our field working for such a variety of well known brands?
Harm Linssen (1972) holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing & Economics and worked most of his career in commercial- and client-facing positions in the media industry. He worked among others for Kaba, Sky Radio, Netsociety and myThings.
Wout Smelt (1987) holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and has a deep love for web technology and discovering and understanding new technologies. He worked for AdLantic as Innovation Manager, was e-commerce manager at Regardz and worked as a freelancer for companies like T-Mobile and Ziggo.
Wout and Harm first met each other back in 2010 at the office of Netsociety (later acquired by iProspect) where Harm was managing the Affiliate & Display department. Wout at that time was Innovation Manager at AdLantic and was invited by Netsociety to introduce the SEA and SEO specialists into the world of display advertising and in particular retargeting, a technology which Wout had designed and built for AdLantic.
Five years later, in 2015, Wout was a Freelance Developer for companies like ACSI, T-Mobile and Ziggo while Harm had moved abroad and became an independent personalisation specialist in the Dutch market. He was helping companies like AFC Ajax, Feyenoord, Beate Uhse, Bristol and Cool Cat with their first steps towards personalising their webshops.
Harm wanted to bring his personalisation services to the next level and to start a company specialised in this field. Together with a good friend they came up with the idea of the name Relevant Online because recommendation engines and personalisation tools are all about showing the most relevant content to website visitors. Living abroad, Harm realised he needed help in the Netherlands to further shape and execute his plans.
He approached Wout to have a meeting and discuss his ideas. On 11 February 2016, a cold and sunny Thursday afternoon, they met in a restaurant in Utrecht. Wout saw the potential of working together but felt with Harm’s idea the added value for customers would be to thin. He suggested to offer more services like e-commerce technology integrations and technical website optimisation. Also Wout insisted on a more modern logo and a completely new website as the one Harm built was by far not up to his standards.
They agreed on an approach and in that very first meeting they decided to join forces. In April 2016 the company’s legal entity was officially established but 11 February 2016 will always feel like the date Relevant Online started.
Values and culture
When shaping the business plan one thing was crucial to both founders: the company should reflect who they are as persons and how they like to do business. They are both go-getters, sleeves rolled up, studious, positive, direct, open and very informal. At Relevant Online you will see no big lease cars and no sales department. We are specialists and not consultants, we speak normal language, avoid using buzzwords and above all we have the intrinsic motivation to help other people.
Above all we have always been fully transparent in our time spent. Already since 2017 our clients have access to a real-time dashboard in which they can, at any given time, see in detail what we did and when.
The early days
From the kitchen tables of our homes we started and made the first steps, approaching existing and potential customers in our network to inform them about our services (which back then we referred to as “personalisation & optimisation”).
In July 2017 we were proud that Marlous Been joined us and became our first colleague. We moved from the kitchen table to our first office in De Pionier in Utrecht and in September 2017 also Frank Licht joined us, who back then, still had to put his own desk together.
In those early days, no matter what, if we could help, we did it. As a result we did a bunch of different things. There were companies we helped with their personalisation tooling like AFC Ajax, Feyenoord, Beate Uhse and Bristol. Others like ACSI, Allekabels, Bunzlau Castle and Weltevree we helped with their websites, backend development- and engineering challenges. There was even a company we helped with installing their telephone server.
An event that illustrates how eager we were, occurred when we moved into our first office in September 2017. Wout found a good deal for furniture at a company in Utrecht. Their website was not working very well so he did not order online but went to visit them. When he arrived he was surprised to see the massive size of their warehouse and the amount of products in stock. Based on the online experience it was something he did not expect and he told this to the owner. Wout returned to the office with not just furniture, he returned with a new client that wanted us to build them a better website.
In 2018 our list of clients kept growing. Among others, we were proud to be working with Delta Fiber, G-Star, Miss Etam, Profijt Meubel, Reprise Digital, Simpel, The Little Green Bag and many others.
We were building and optimising websites, implementing third party technologies and offering CRO and Data Activation services. We were successful, but in retrospect we lacked focus.
Turning point 2019
In 2019, the year after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, the e-commerce- and online marketing world were all about tracking versus privacy. The options to measure visitor behavior were more and more under pressure due to a “privacy war” started by Apple and Mozilla.
Some of our largest customers at that time, like DPG Online Services and Maxeda, were facing challenges with data tracking and web analytics and we were getting more and more questions about the approaching end of third party cookies and technical tracking challenges.
The year 2019 marked a turning point because it gave us focus. From 2019 Relevant Online became a frontrunner in custom technical solutions for data tracking. We gradually stopped with personalisation, data activation and web development and instead, we specialized in data tracking, data engineering and data architecture.
To counter the privacy measures taken by Safari and other browsers, Wout invented in 2019 a technical solution which was groundbreaking at the time. With his idea he became the founding father of TraceDock which he built with two others and which he sold two years later in 2021.
In parallel in this period the services of Relevant Online became very specialised and we found the focus which was lacking in the years before. We became partners of many online marketing agencies who came (and up until today still come) to us for help with data tracking challenges. Being active for so many different e-commerce websites and agencies, and solving similar challenges for all of them, we became frontrunners in our field.
Some of the custom solutions we built inspired us to start another company in 2022 together with our colleague Suze Löbker. Code Cube offers a toolbox of SaaS solutions for monitoring data tracking and tagging and sitespeed for any website from small to enterprise level.
We will continue to develop ourselves in an ever evolving landscape. We will keep doing what drives us: helping people. It makes us proud to work for known brands but ultimately we work for people. We strive for good and informal contact, to be always open, direct and honest. Say what you do, do what you say!
Are you curious about working together with us on your data challenges?
Get in touch! We will be happy to meet.